Are people actually getting happier from having doors opened, hugs, and cupcakes? Does this challenge actually work? Instinctively I say yes, but today I decided to look at the science of it all.
There's quite a few studies on happiness (thousands actually...) and lots on altruism, giving, and kindness. Despite being small studies, they're showing some happy results.
A Japanese study looked at how acts of kindness affect the giver. If they weren't happy before, they certainly were after an act of kindness. Also, they found that already happy people are happier when they are kind to others. I can verify that first-hand, and come on, look at how happy KP is. That kid's just giving!
Which brings me to two very cool studies. The first study looked at preschool kids, happiness, and prosocial behaviour. When they saw adults give, they gave and were happier for it. The second study, looked at older kids (9-11) and saw that they were happier, more socially inclusive, and more cooperative when they did kind things for others. Can you imagine a world of kids taught like this?
What about us big kids, you ask? Being happy in the moment makes us more resilient. Researchers in California found that overall life satisfaction came from the resources present in the individuals to deal with life events. Those with greater resilience would have better and happier outcomes because they could change their perspective. Happy right now means happy much later on.
"...it is in-the-moment positive emotions, and not more general positive evaluations of one's life, that form the link between happiness and desirable life outcomes." -Cohn, et al.
We need to respect our own limits, of course. A study by Post on altruism found that "a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate, so long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks." I see so many people who are just exhausted from giving. While we can give and give, it's so important to recognize when it's time to give to ourselves for a bit.
Which brings me to relationships. There's a lot of research out there on happiness of marriages and social networks. A small study of 47 octogenarian couples suggests that it's all about relationship satisfaction. We can have a lot of people around us, but are they the right people? Energy vampires? Not so good. The study also suggests that it's about the time we spend interacting with others that impacts happiness the most. For the time it takes to do one nice thing for one person, think of the possible impact from doubling that time!
The bottom line? Get out there and do some good. Teach kids how to do some good. Not only will you feel happier, but you'll set yourself up for some great times on the shuffleboard court.
References (all are linked above but just in case):
K. Otake, et al. Happy people become happier through kindness. J Happiness Stud. 2006 September; 7(3): 361–375.
L. Aknin, J. Hamlin, and E. Dunn. Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children. PLoS One. 2012; 7(6): e39211.
K. Leyous, et al. Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being. PLoS One. 2012; 7(12): e51380.
M. A. Cohn, et al. Happiness Unpacked: Positive Emotions Increase Life Satisfaction by Building Resilience. Emotion. 2009 June; 9(3): 361–368.
SG Post. Altuism, happiness, and health: it's good to be good. Int J Behav Med. 2005;12(2):66-77.
R. Waldinger and M. Schulz. What’s Love Got To Do With It?: Social Functioning, Perceived Health, and Daily Happiness in Married Octogenarians. Psychol Aging. 2010 June; 25(2): 422–431.
I challenge myself... a lot.